Nose: The smell of rich red wine is at the forefront. Raspberries and a hint of rye spice also pull through. Is there a hint of baking fruit pie in there? I want to say it reminds me of the smell of some kind of dessert freshly baking, I just can’t put my finger on it. One thing is certain though, it’s definitely a blend of red wine and whiskey on the nose, with the red wine dominating.
Palate: Dark fruit is prominent, cherries and raspberries specifically. It coats the mouth and tongue nicely giving a rich, velvety mouthfeel. There’s less spice than with the standard Rendezvous Rye, but about the same level of complexity. Like the smell, the taste is blend of dark red wine and whiskey although the whiskey dominates on the palate.
Finish: No new flavors make themselves present. Fades away softly. Medium length and not very spicy, but warming none-the-less.
Uniqueness: Barrel finished whiskey is becoming more and more popular. It adds a flair of excitement and separation from the masses. “Look at all those ryes… but wait, this one is barrel finished!” Although different, barrel finished does not necessarily mean good. It’s the equivalent of adding some flavoring to our whiskey, just in a more romantic way than simply measuring and dumping. That said, A Midwinter Nights Dram is a barrel finished success. High West starts with the standard Rendezvous Rye and manages to impart some deep fruity flavors from the port wine barrel finishing that tames the spice and gives this a thick, velvety mouthfeel. High West claims this “tastes like the flavors of Christmas,” which I’d say isn’t a very far stretch. It definitely seems like something I could see myself sipping around a fire in the presence of family and friends. Even it’s reddish hue alludes to a Christmas theme.
Value: The value delivered by this whiskey is that fact that it’s been blended and finished so elegantly. As mentioned before in some ways there is nothing else quite like it, so that can dictate a higher price. Compared with the High West's Rendezvous Rye at $50, this is quite a bit more expensive. There is additional cost to age it longer though, which must be considered. This is also a fairly limited release and we don’t really know how much more will be released in the future, if any. For those reasons, this is worth getting your hands on a bottle to try and I think it’s priced fairly. I would definitely buy again when this bottle runs out, although I think that may be a while.
Overall: I have a love-hate with barrel finished whiskeys. I’m always interested in them, but have never found one that’s become a staple in my day-to-day pours. I can love one on one day, then hate it the next. Despite that, they have their time and place. A Midwinter Nights Dram certainly claims its time and place. It’s a welcomed composition of flavors suitable for special occasions during the colder months as High West’s marketing suggests. It’s been nearly impossible to find since it first hit the market, and the overall response from the community has been positive. Even if this was widely accessible and lower priced, I will say it would never become one of my daily drinkers. I would reserve it for certain occasions and those times when I’m itching to share it with friends wanting something a little different. I do sincerely hope this becomes a regular annual release for High West and it creates further excitement for what is yet to come from this company.
Having trouble finding A Midwinter Nights Dram? I experimented a little bit and was able to put together something that echoed similar flavors. It’s not the real thing of course, but like “Poor Man’s Pappy” this may get you close. Grab your bottle of Rendezvous Rye and your favorite red wine. Pour an ounce of the Rendezvous, then put about 3-6 drops of the red wine into it. You’ll have to experiment a little with different red wines and the number of drops you use, but I found the end result to be similar in general flavor characteristics to A Midwinter Nights Dram. If you get the formula right, fill up your decanter and now you’re ready for a night by the fire with some friends.
To sum it up: A barrel finished success delivering a very different experience than that found in the original Rendezvous Rye.
-Nick - Reviewed: 11/2014
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